Consumer rights
Wrong delivery
Pushpa Girimaji

Consumer courts often complain that in most cases of medical negligence filed before them, the complainants do not provide proper documentation and proof to support their allegation. Here is a case where the apex consumer court has appreciated the evidence brought by the complainant. The case has its origin in the birth of a child on December 13, 1989 to Geetha Shibu Thomas and the treatment given to her a few days prior to that.

Thomas was to deliver a normal child on December 6, but when she did not develop labour pain even on December 8, she got herself admitted to Cosmopolitan Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. On December 11, the doctor administered Pitocin drip to induce uterine contractions, but it did not help. On December 13, the drip was repeated twice in the morning and when it failed to produce the desired results, the doctor tried "artificial rupture of membrane (ARM)" and eventually the child was delivered.

Soon after birth, the mother complained about the incessant crying of the baby, tremors and jerks, failure to suck, but the doctor apparently paid no attention. On the third day, the mother and child were discharged, but within 16 hours, the child had to be rushed back to the hospital with high fever, convulsions and breathing difficulties. The paediatrician who saw the child diagnosed it as suffering from septicaemia and referred it to another hospital.

Tests at this hospital revealed that the child had suffered "birth asphyxia" or lack of oxygen at birth, resulting in the child eventually suffering mental retardation, epilepsy and physical disability. The parentsí contention was that first of all, when Pitocin drip is given to induce labour, the mother should not be left alone at all and there has to be constant monitoring of both the mother and the foetus as Pitocin drip is known to cause trauma in the foetus and the mother. This was not done. Again, when ARM was conducted, the rupture produced only a very small quantity of amniotic fluid and even this was stained with foetal faecal matter. This was a clear indication of foetal distress and the doctor should have opted for caesarean section at this time. But this was not done because the gynaecologist did not see the patient between 8.15 am and 12 noon on December 13 nor monitor her as required.

Thomas also alleged that she never reached the second stage of labour, yet the delivery was forced, resulting in the child getting asphyxiated. Even after delivery, no measures were taken to minimise its effects or resuscitate the child. In fact given the circumstances, a paediatrician should have been there during delivery, but the paediatrician saw the child only half an hour after birth. Even later, despite the motherís complaints about the baby, the doctors did not bother and discharged the patient without considering the symptoms of birth asphyxia in the child. And to corroborate each of these points, they quoted from various medical texts: Williams Obstetrics, O.P. Ghai on Essential Pediatrics, Meharban Singh on Care of New Born, Nelsonís Textbook of Pediatrics. Strangely, the State Commission had dismissed this case on the ground that there was not enough evidence. The National Commission, on the other hand, held that there was adequate evidence to prove negligence. The commission in its order remarked that there were enough indications to show that this was a high-risk case. But at every stage, the doctor failed to heed the warning signals and take the necessary precautions to avert birth asphyxia. And even later, did not take adequate measures to reduce the effects of forced delivery on the child.

The apex consumer court therefore set aside the order of the State Commission and directed the hospital, the consultant gynaecologist and the consultant paediatrician to pay Rs 4.5 lakh as compensation and Rs 10,000 as costs. In fact referring to the compensation amount of Rs 4.5 lakh sought by the parents, the apex consumer court said it was on the lower side, considering the fact that the child needed constant care and an attendant all its life. (Baby Geetha (infant) and others vs Cosmopolitan Hospitals and ors., FA no 190 of 1997, decided on May18, 2006). One hopes that this kind of tragedy never occurs. But when it does, try and formulate your complaint in such a way that you get adequate compensation and the doctor pays for his or her negligence.

To put together the case, you can seek the help of a friend or a relative, who is a doctor. Or go to a medical college library. The Internet too gives you access to a lot of information. Of course, all this requires some effort, but then, if one needs to prove a point, one has to do it.